In 2003, the United States Education Department issued a document called “Guidance on School Prayer.” It contained very restrictive rules for prayer in a school setting. We have reported on some cases where a student was prohibited from giving a talk connected to an earned award because they insisted on including a prayer. Now, we see the government easing restrictions on prayer in school.
The 2020 release by the Education Department states that “student speakers can pray at assemblies or sports games as long as they were not chosen to speak based on their religious perspective.” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says, “Our actions today will protect the constitutional rights of students, teachers, and faith-based institutions.”
The new rules also expand the ability of faith-based groups to participate in government programs, and it “aims to put religious groups on equal footing when competing for federal grants and other funding.” We have recently pointed out the problems with accepting government money when it means the government gets to decide what you can teach, preach, and do.
Since this new set of rules comes in an election year, some may impugn the motives of the government rule-makers. I am sure it will generate a lot of reaction from atheistic groups. At the very least, the government easing restrictions on prayer in school will move it away from a totally atheistic stance on the rights of young people.
Not long ago, we were appalled at the horrendous fires in California, and now we hear about terrible fires in Australia. In our August 16, 2018, post we talked about the California fires, and we discussed why they happened. We pointed out that blaming God for the wildfires in California was not logical, scientifically correct, or biblical. (You can read that again by clicking HERE.)
Our primary resource for that discussion was Keith Crummer, whose whole career with the United States Forrest Service revolved around managing the forests in California. His main point was that the cause of the fires was mismanagement by people who thought they were protecting the forests. They were stopping the natural fire-preventing design from operating. Now we see this again with the fires in Australia.
Before we go any further, let us state that our hearts go out to our friends in Australia, who, like the victims in California, have suffered an unimaginable loss. To watch everything you own go up in flames is a heart-wrenching tragedy no matter what the cause. There are two points we want to make:
#1) The fires in Australia are not a retaliatory act of God. Some religious figures are saying the fires are God’s punishment for Australia’s movement away from belief in God and its immersion in secularism. There is no question about the contributing factors to the fires, and none of them include miraculous acts of God. That is also not the way God operates. If God retaliated every time a group of people deliberately defied Him, Washington D.C. would have gone up in flames long ago. Passages like James 1:13 tell us that God is not the source of the bad things that happen to us. The following eight verses identify the cause as human greed and selfishness.
#2) Like the California fires, the fires in Australia are a consequence of human mismanagement of resources. In its natural state, the environment prevents such massive fires. Water storage in the soil, small fires that clean up underbrush so it can’t erupt in huge, hot fires, plants that are resistant to fire and don’t burn well all reduce the fire hazard. Imported plants, inadequate management of water resources, and overuse of the land are the main contributors to massive fires . Today you can go back to the areas in California that were scorched so severely in 2018 and see that the land is recovering. Hopefully, the bad management practices of the past won’t be repeated, but sometimes humans fail to learn from past mistakes. God doesn’t cause tragedies like this, but He also doesn’t force humans to manage intelligently, and He doesn’t take away the results of mismanagement.
Our year-end report for 2019 is now available. One of the frequent challenges that atheists and skeptics bring against religion and those of us who publicly argue for the existence of God is that the only reason we do it is to make money.
There is no question that some have used religion as a money-making business or as a tool to promote some secular cause. Yes, there are TV preachers who have become millionaires by promoting their religious views. There are also atheists and skeptics who use their opposition to religion or to religious persons in the same way. The only way to know the truth is to look at what the religion or ministry does, and what is the personal gain for its leaders.
It’s with that objective in mind that the “Does God Exist?” ministry and John Clayton offer a year-end report at the start of each new year. If you would like to receive a copy of the four-page year-end report for 2019, send us your postal address or email address, and we will send it to you. Send your request to John Clayton, 1555 Echo Valley Drive, Niles, MI 49120, or email to email@example.com.
Yesterday we reported on the LGBT conflict which is breaking the United Methodist Church apart. The dispute over sexual morality is also affecting one of the oldest and most highly regarded theological seminaries in the United States–Fuller Theological Seminary. The conflict involves Christian seminary students in same-sex marriages.
Fuller has a “Sexual Standards Policy,” which states that the seminary “holds marriage to be a covenant union between one man and one woman.” The policy also says that “homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct” are “inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture.” Two students, one man and one woman, were expelled because the seminary learned that they were in same-sex marriages. They are both suing the school for one million dollars each.
The problem here is that Fuller and many other Christian colleges and seminaries receive government assistance in scholarships and other educational funding. Title IX government funding rules bar “discrimination based on sex.” The original intent of this rule was that women could not be refused participation in educational programs just because they were women. Now LGBT supporters are mounting legal efforts to expand Title IX protections to gender identity and sexuality.
What happens here will have a profound effect on Christian colleges who participate in any scholarship program where government grants or loans allow students to get an education. This would include those with minority and military scholarships. It will also affect those schools and churches that use government commodities in benevolent programs or minority support programs.
Christian seminary students in same-sex marriages is only one aspect of a growing problem. It seems that the government’s beliefs about morality are dictating what Church programs can teach. The only option is for churches and schools not to use government support in any way, or else they must change their moral teachings.
One of the most divisive issues facing all Americans, including churches, is the question of how to handle the issue of sexuality in a changing culture. The United Methodist Church has been the most public about the struggle going on within their denomination. In an article in Christianity Today for January/February 2020, Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, discussed the Methodist Church as an indicator of religion in America. Tooley says, “The Methodist Church has boasted of being America’s church, and whatever is going on in America is going on in the Methodist Church.” What can we learn from the Methodist division about the future of religion in America?
Atheists have used the LGBT issue effectively against belief in God. They insist that refusing to accept anyone based on sexual preference is a form of abuse and a violation of human rights. The United Methodist Church added a sentence to “The Book of Discipline” in the 1970s, saying that the Methodist Church “does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” In 2019 that stance was reinforced by a vote of 438 to 384. That vote indicated the depth of division on this issue. Now the Methodists are debating how to divide into two denominations to make everyone happy. Will the Methodist division make anyone happy? What effect will it have on the future of religion in America?
The Does God Exist? Ministry maintains that God’s Word is 100% true and is the only trustworthy guide to all decisions made in life. These facts support that view and are the only way Christians can consistently deal with the LGBT issue:
*Abusing anyone because of their choices in life violates the teachings of Jesus.
*Sexual feelings do not demand sexual expression. Premarital sex, adultery, and fornication of all kinds are not mandated by being human. Same-sex attraction does not have to be consummated in sexual acts any more than being a single sexual teenager with raging hormones does. Abstinence is biblical and logical.
*LGBT lifestyles are destructive. All data shows that STDs are more prevalent in LGBT practitioners. Sex-change operations create the need for medication for the remainder of life. Psychological issues are involved in most LGBT choices.
Sexual orientation is not always a conscious choice of those with LGBT issues. Environmental issues, genetics, abuse, and family and peer issues are always involved. The Christian response to people struggling with their sexuality must be compassionate caring, and loving-kindness, with sympathetic support.The Church must lead in doing all of this. The future of religion in America must require that we NOT change the Bible to fit the current beliefs of the culture.
Our materials have been used in China for many years. Our DVD series was translated into Mandarin, and many years ago, we helped arrange for a Chinese national to duplicate the DVDs in large quantities and distribute them throughout China. We are now hearing from our contacts in China about an increase in Chinese persecution of Christians.
For several years, churches have had to register with the government. Now the government is placing surveillance cameras in the churches to monitor congregants. Churches that refuse to allow the cameras are being shut down. All churches with a cross on their buildings have had those crosses taken down, and images of Christ are replaced with pictures of Xi Jinping.
One congregational leader expressed the dedication that our brothers in China have. When he was arrested, he told an American visitor, “I have lost my congregation, my freedom, and I am starting to lose my health. I have cried to God, ‘Why are You letting me go through this?’ I now see that the persecution is a formula for revival. As I read Exodus 3:7-8, I see God aware of the miserable bondage His chosen people endured for 400 years, but He was not indifferent to their sufferings. As we pray, we can rest in the fact that we are part of God’s wise and caring plan, no matter how inscrutable that plan may appear to human eyes.”
It isn’t only Chinese persecution of Christians. We hear similar stories from Nigeria, India, Eritrea, and Pakistan. Our prayers are with our brothers and sisters in these countries. New laws restricting and persecuting Christians are being considered in New York, California, Chicago, and Washington D.C. Satan makes a mistake when he uses these direct attacks on the Church because it will wake people up. The revival that results will defeat him. We are not revealing names or sources here for obvious reasons.
Many of the atheist diatribes do not try to counter the massive evidence for God’s existence. Instead, they criticize things that have been done by people who claim to be Christians. From the Crusades to inquisitions to witch hunts, people claiming to be Christ-followers have conducted themselves in un-Christlike ways.
King James 1 had a major role in the effort to eradicate witchcraft from 17th century England. The Lancashire witchcraft trials in 1612 were a part of his legacy. Of course, he also commissioned the 1611 King James translation of the Bible into English. There is no Hebrew or early Greek word for “witch,” but because of the cultural climate of the day, the term “witch” was used in passages dealing with idolaters, mediums, or sorcerers.
Denominations who came to America with the King James Bible in their hands used the word “witch” to deal with even such things as a charm or remedy. Galatians 5:20 uses the Greek word “pharmakia” to describe sorcery, which refers to casting spells. It is translated as “witchcraft” in many Bibles. In 1 Samuel 15:23, the Hebrew word “qasam” is translated “witchcraft” in the KJV. A better translation is “divination,” which is the pagan parallel to prophesying.
In the Old Testament, anyone who was into astrology or enchantments was dealt with harshly. (See Exodus 22:18, Deuteronomy 18:10, 2 Kings 9:22, 2 Chronicles 33:6, and Micah 5:12.) When Jesus canceled the old law by “nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14), He did away with the violent retaliation that the law prescribed.
Witch hunts resulted in the terrible things that happened in the witch trials of Salem, Massachusets, in 1692 and 1693. People were tortured and killed because they were accused of witchcraft. Read Matthew 5-7 to see how Jesus dealt with the opponents of His teaching. God is a God of love, full of compassion and care for all human beings. Those who claim to be witches need the same love and care that all humans seek. Instead of condemning them to torture and death, Christians should show them that Christ’s love can meet their real needs.
Astronomers are watching Betelgeuse with anticipation. Something is happening which could teach us about the universe.
In basic astronomy classes, students are exposed to what is known as the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. It’s a graphic representation of our scientific understanding of stars. We can measure the changes that happen in stars and watch them age. The problem is that stars live so long and we live such a short time that we will never see a star be made, live its life and die. We see young stars which are blue hot and watch blue hot stars cool becoming yellow. We see yellow stars become red. We sometimes see red stars explode becoming novas or supernovas depending upon their size.In 1987 we watched a star explode and saw the production of new elements that had not been there before. But that explosion was so far away that measurements were difficult.
Located in Orion, Betelgeuse is one of the brightest and most recognized stars in the sky. Since it is only 700 light-years away, Betelgeuse is close enough for us to see and measure well. It is huge! In fact, it is so large that if it were located where our Sun is, the edge of it would extend to the orbit of Jupiter and its flares would go beyond the orbit of Neptune!
Watching Betelgeuse, astronomers can see that it is changing rapidly. It is only half as bright as it was five months ago. Because we have never seen a star explode up close, astronomers have an intense interest in what is happening to this nearby star. If Betelgeuse explodes, it will become a supernova. As we watch from Earth with our naked eyes, it would be as bright as our Moon. Watching God forge new elements in Betelgeuse would be quite a show, but it could happen as you read this or it may be 100,000 years in the future.
One of the many conditions necessary for life to exist on our planet is the location of our solar system and our neighbors in the cosmos. A star exploding close to us would bathe our planet in lethal radiation and even incinerate us. Don’t worry, because an object 700-light-years distant is not a threat to Earth. The closest star to us is 4.3 light-years away, and it is nowhere near the nova stage.
Our ignorance of this method of God’s creation is astounding. We can relate to the message of Job 38:31-33. There God mentions the constellation Orion where Betelgeuse is located when He says: “Can you bind the influences of the Pleiades or loose the bands of Orion? Can you bring forth Mazzaroth (the 12 constellations of the zodiac) in his season, or can you guide Arcturus and his sons? Do you know the ordinances of heaven? Can you set the position of them on the Earth?”
Even today with our technology the answer to those questions is “No.” Watching Betelgeuse, we can realize the truth that “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalms 19:1).
One of the most interesting questions about creation is how elements are produced. Simply saying that “God did it” is not the answer. The question we are asking is HOW God did it. A particular challenge to science has been the heavy element mystery.
We understand and can duplicate the production of light elements by the process of nuclear fusion. Hydrogen nuclei can be fused to produce helium, and we see this process as it takes place in the Sun. We can duplicate the process in the hydrogen bomb. As we study the stars, we see other elements produced in stellar processes. When supernova 1987A exploded, scientists saw neon being produced, which is far beyond anything we can do. In theory, the first 26 elements in the periodic chart could be produced by what we see happening in stars.
The heavy element mystery is how elements heavier than iron are produced. For example, how do you make gold? The old alchemists tried in vain to make it by reactions in the laboratory, but we have not seen it being produced even in supernovas. The number of protons present in gold is over three times the number of protons in iron. The amount of energy required to make an atom of gold by nuclear fusion is beyond our comprehension.
In 2017, scientists observed two neutron stars colliding and producing elements heavier than iron. But what would it take to produce uranium with 92 protons and a weight 238 times heavier than hydrogen? That remains a real heavy element mystery. We are not suggesting a “god of the gaps” explanation. In the distant future, science may find an answer, but what it testifies to is the incredible power we see in the cosmos and the design that allows us to have the gold, silver, platinum, and radioactive materials we use.
The heavy element mystery reminds us of how puny and small we are in the context of creation. We have an even better understanding of our insignificance than did the author of Psalms 8:3-4 who wrote, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars which you have ordained; what is man, that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you visit him.”
Whom or What Do You Worship? For many people, the immediate reaction is to say something like, “I don’t worship anything. I am a self-made person.” A more degrading answer might be, “Worship is for sissies, and I don’t need that junk.” Webster’s dictionary defines worship as “rendering of homage to something or someone” or “rendering religious reverence to something or someone.” Worship is not confined to an activity done in a church building. Some people worship nature, some worship an experience, others worship celestial objects or animals, or even their job or their mate. God doesn’t need our worship. Worship is for our benefit, not God’s.
From a biblical perspective, there is an easy answer to why we do these things. God created us in His image, and God is a Spirit (Genesis 1:26-27 and John 4:24). We all have a spiritual component which is a part of our makeup. Romans 8:16 tells us, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Atheists have this spiritual makeup, and they express it in their obsessions in life. I have known atheists who worshipped sex or their material possessions or an activity like fishing. They would render homage to the object of their worship that would shame any preacher.
What is unique about Christian worship is that it can be controlled and directed to productive uses. Jesus warned his followers to avoid worshiping “the traditions of the elders” (See Mark 7:1-8). Paul reflected on the same idea in Colossians 2:8 warning about making philosophy the object of one’s worship. He goes on in verses 16-23 about making religious rules an object of worship. In Romans 1:25, Paul talks about “worshipping the things made instead of the maker.” Thus we must ask, “Whom or what do you worship?”
How we express the spiritual drive that is built into all of us is essential and within our control. To establish meaningful worship, 1 Timothy 4:12-13 and Hebrews 10:24-25 encourage reading and learning. James 1:27 points out that pure religion and worship comes in meeting the needs of those less fortunate than ourselves. Our worship as Christians is not just a Sunday morning thing. Worship is a continual activity. Hebrews 13:15-16 talks about worship through voices. James 5:13 talks about personal prayer, and in Matthew 6:5-15, Jesus talks about private prayer worship as a part of daily life. Even giving is an act of worship, expressed in Hebrews 13:16, 2 Corinthians 9:7, and Acts 20:35.
Worship with the wrong attitude can be destructive, even for Churches. In 1 Corinthians 11:17-22, Paul says the worship of that congregation did more harm than good. Those with no relationship to God are likely to find whatever they worship is disappointing and unfulfilling. Learning to look to a higher power is widely recognized as a technique to help us find satisfaction and overcome problems in life. Ephesians 2:18 tells us that Christians have access to the Father. Worship in private and in corporate service can be a tool to bring us great satisfaction and solutions to the major problems of life.
Whom or what do you worship? Other worship alternatives don’t benefit the worshipper or anyone else in such profound ways as when we worship God.